Old Elk Wheated Bourbon

Maker: Old Elk Distillery, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High wheat straight bourbon (51% corn, 45% wheat, 4% malt)

Age: 5 y/o

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $67

Appearance: Medium copper

Nose: Cassia, star anise, powdered ginger, oak, alcohol.

Palate: Sweet and spicy. Cinnamon, allspice.

Finish: Cola, cinnamon rolls.

Parting words: Old Elk is an NDP/Micro-distillery located in Fort Collins, CO run by Master Distiller Greg Metze, who was chief distiller at MGPI for 38 years. Those years included the ones that saw it rise from an obscure industrial distillery to a famous (and somewhat infamous) bulk and custom whiskey producer that fueled the explosive growth in independent bottlers in the US, and the rye boom.

The big wheaters on the market, currently, those made by Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Maker’s Mark all trace their recipes back to the bourbons made at the legendary Stizel-Weller distillery in Louisville. While there are differences betweeen them, they have more in common than not.

This wheater is different. It’s the first high wheat bourbon I’ve ever purchased, and boy is it high. It’s 6 percentage points away from being a wheat whiskey. It has a bit of the “biscuity” quality of wheat whiskeys, but its primary characteristic is spice. Specifically what is often called baking or Christmas spice. It’s truly a unique product in the world of bourbon.

Old Elk has a few sharp points, but at 5 years old, that’s to be expected. $67 is too expensive for a 5 y/o, 92 proof bottling from a major distillery, but I’m willing to give it a pass, given how unique and well-crafted it is. I would really like to see the age go up and the price go down, but even as it is, Old Elk Wheated Bourbon is recommended.

A brief word on the bottle itself. The label and shape of the bottle is elegant, but I don’t like how heavy it is. We’re in the midst of a global climate crisis. Heavy bottles=more fuel needed to move them=higher carbon emissions. It’s (past) time to dump the heavy bottles.

Head to head: Left Foot Charley Dry Riesling 2016 vs 2017

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

16= 2016 vintage

17= 2017 vinatge

Places of origin

16: Terminal Moraine (43%), Seventh Hill Farm original block (32%), Longcore (13%), and Cork’s Vineyard (12%) vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

16: Seventh Hill Farm (44%), Terminal Moraine (28%), Bird’s Perch (20%), Rosi Vineyards (5%), Longcore (2%), and Chown (1%) vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Style: Dry Riesling.

ABV

16: 12.1%

17: 12%

Purchased for

16: $19 (Red Wagon, Rochester Hills)

17: $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Nose

16: Fruity, a little musty at first, lemon thyme.

17: Lychee, dry peach, lemon thyme.

Palate

16: Tart. Lemonheads, pear, grapefruit.

17: Drier. Mineral water.

Finish

16: Gravely, somewhat tart, but sweetens as it warms.

17: Similar. Gravel, slightly tart, but gets lemony as it warms.

Parting words: This was another head to head tasting Liz & I had with friends of the blog Amy and Pete. They’re old hat at this now so they went in with the focus of experienced wine tasters.

The overall winner was the 2017, although Amy and I liked both. Liz thought the 2016 was much too tart and Pete wasn’t too hot on it either. The 2017 had an austere elegance that the 2016 (at this point anyway) lacked. They both went very well with our snacks.

Left Foot Charley is known for its single vineyard Rieslings, one of the most famous of which is named for one of the vineyards well represented in these blends, Seventh Hill Farm. It’s the largest of the vineyards represented at a whopping 5 acres and goes back to the late 1990s. It’s owned by Tom and Linda Scheuerman and is known for its sunny southern exposure and sandy loam soil.

The second best represented of these vineyards is Terminal Moraine. It’s farmed by Lisa Reeshorst, and is 1.8 acres large. It will celebrate its twentieth anniversary next year. The others are mostly smaller. For more information on these wines and the vineyards they come from, click here for the 2016 vintage and here for 2017.

I’m not sure if the differences in these wines are terroir or vintage drive (although it’s probably a little of both) but it’s an interesting contrast. 2016 was a good vintage in Michigan, but maybe a little too hot (yes, that’s possible here). 2017 was a more balanced vintage and produced some very elegant, well-balanced wines, so our preference was not surprising. The 2016 may be a little over the hill (no pun intended) as well, although it’s still drinking just fine, in my opinion, anyway. In general, I think 2016 Michigan wines are not as age-worthy as the 2017s (although there are always exceptions).

At under $20, LFC Dry Riesling is a real bargain, especially compared to its German cousins. Both vintages are recommended, but unless you have a very expensive, climate controlled cellar, 2016 is a wine to drink now. The 2017 will probably be fine for another year or two, but why wait? It’s great now.

Engle’s Ransom Michigan Hard Cider

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: Engle Ridge Farm, Grand Traverse County, Michigan, USA

Apples: Various European heritage varieties.

ABV: 7.8%

Price: $8/500 ml (LFC website)

Appearance: Gold with steady bubbles.

Nose: Strawberry, caramel, cut apple.

Palate: Tingly, medium light bodied, and dry. Granny smith.

Finish: Clean, apple butter.

Parting words: Left Foot Charley is best known for making some of the best single vineyard wines in Northern Michigan, but they also make some of the best single orchard ciders in Northern Michigan!

This is a great example. Engle’s Ransom isn’t a brash, funky Iberian or Norman cider. It’s a crisp, clean expression of the apples that went into it and the stony vineyard they came from. There’s a little sweetness and bitterness that keep it from turning into Pellegrino, but it’s still dry and refreshing on a hot summer afternoon.

At $8 for half a liter, this is an easy buy. Engle’s Ransom is recommended.